Information about the Boundary Commission for England
The Boundary Commission for England is an advisory Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), which is sponsored by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The Secretariat staff and corporate functions such as Finance, and HR support are all provided by DLUHC, which also oversees the corporate governance arrangements for the Commission. At present the Commission is transitioning its IT arrangements from the Cabinet Office (its previous sponsor) to DLUHC systems.
The Commission is constituted under Schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 (as amended). The Commission is an independent, non-political and impartial body and it takes every opportunity to emphasise that the results and voting patterns of previous elections do not, and should not, enter into its considerations. Nor does it consider the possible effects of its recommendations on future voting patterns.
The Commission is required to submit periodical reports in respect of the parliamentary constituencies in England to the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is the Speaker’s statutory duty to lay the reports before Parliament and for the Government to present an Order to Privy Council giving effect to the Commission’s recommendations.
The Speaker of the House of Commons is the ex-officio Chairman of all four Boundary Commissions in the United Kingdom. The appointment of the Speaker emphasises the independent, impartial, and non-political nature of the Commission. The Speaker plays no part in the actual conduct of reviews.
The Deputy Chair of the Boundary Commission for England, who presides over meetings, is a High Court judge appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The Deputy Chair is the Honourable Mr Justice Peter Lane (appointed on 23 June 2020, for a term of three years). The two other Members of the Commission are Mr Colin Byrne and Mrs Sarah Hamilton (both appointed for a term of five years, to 2024).
The Commissioners are part-time appointees who meet whenever the work programme requires it. The Commissioners (not including the Deputy Chair) are paid a daily fee set by the Treasury and, together with the Deputy Chair, are entitled to recover any expenses incurred on Commission work.
The Commission adheres to the Cabinet Office’s code of conduct for board members of public bodies. It also maintains a Register of Members’ Interests, which is updated at least annually and can be accessed on the Commission’s website.
There are two statutory assessors – i.e. technical advisers – to the Commission. They are the Director General of Ordnance Survey, and the Statistics Authority. Both are represented at Commission meetings by officials whenever the Commission has a need to consult them on their areas of expertise.
The Commission may arrange for Assistant Commissioners to be appointed by the Secretary of State to assist it with its work. During an active constituency review, Assistant Commissioners chair the public hearings that the Commission is statutorily required to hold. They are also asked to undertake an assessment of the representations submitted to the Commission in respect of its initial proposals, together with subsequent comments on those representations, received during the secondary consultation period. The Assistant Commissioners then submit recommendations to the Commissioners on how they consider the initial proposals might be improved in light of the consultation evidence received. The Assistant Commissioners are paid a daily rate set by the Treasury when they work for the Commission.
The Commission appointed 18 Assistant Commissioners for the 2023 Review, following an open public recruitment exercise, which started in the latter part of 2020/21. However, owing to two resignations, 16 Assistant Commissioners undertook substantive work on the 2023 Review.
The Secretary to the Commission is Tim Bowden. The Secretary heads the Secretariat, the role of which is to service and assist the Commission in its conduct of reviews and executing the decisions it takes, and generally to facilitate the smooth and efficient administration of the Commission’s business. The Secretariat may be contacted at the address at the front of this report.
The Commission’s statutory function is to keep under review the distribution of constituencies in England and to make periodical reports (currently every eight years) with recommendations to the Speaker of the House of Commons, in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 (as amended).
During an active general review of the constituencies in England, by virtue of the provisions introduced by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 (both which amended the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986), the Commission allocates a defined number of constituencies to England, the precise number being calculated using a formula defined in the Act and producing a figure broadly in proportion to the size of England’s electorate as against that of the whole United Kingdom. Each constituency is also required to have an electorate that is within 5% of the United Kingdom ‘electoral quota’ (also defined in the Act).
It is important to emphasise that those calculations are again defined in the Act, based on the electorates returned by local authorities for the period ending 2 March 2020 (in the case of the 2023 Review) and are not open to debate by us.
Once the Commission has completed its consideration of the distribution of the constituencies, it announces its initial proposals. Interested parties have an eight week period in which to submit representations of support or objection. The Commission is then required to make the representations submitted during the eight week period available so that interested parties can consider them and submit counter-representations during a further six week period. During the secondary consultation period, the Commission holds public hearings, so that oral submissions can be made to it as well as written representations. Once the six week ‘secondary consultation’ period for counter-representations has closed, the Assistant Commissioners are asked to consider:
•the Commission’s initial proposals;
• the representations received in respect of those;
• the oral submissions made at the public hearings; and
• the counter-representations received
also taking into account a number of statutory factors listed in the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 (as amended).
The Assistant Commissioners are subsequently asked to submit recommendations to the Commission, taking into account all the evidence from consultation. Once those recommendations have been considered, the Commission may decide to announce revised proposals for those initially proposed constituencies where change has been recommended by the Assistant Commissioners. The Commission may also propose no change, or their own changes in light of the evidence presented by the Assistant Commissioners. If revised proposals are announced, a period of four weeks is made available, during which representations on those revised proposals can be made to the Commission. Further public hearings are not held at this stage and there is no subsequent period for counter-representations to be submitted.
The Commission is required to submit its final report and recommendation following an active review to the Speaker of the House of Commons at a time specified in the Act. For the 2023 Review, this is specified before 1 July 2023, with subsequent reports to be submitted every eight years thereafter.